WaterAid and working towards Sustainable Development Goal 6

There are millions of people around the world who live without clean water close to home. Over 1.7 billion people do not have decent toilets. WaterAid Australia is one organisation seeking to change that by achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6.

There are millions of people around the world who live without clean water close to home. Over 1.7 billion people do not have decent toilets. WaterAid Australia is one organisation seeking to change that by achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6.

In a world where access to clean water is a fundamental human right, millions still struggle to secure this basic need. Every day, countless individuals, particularly in developing countries, face the reality of contaminated water sources and inadequate sanitation facilities. This lack of access has devastating consequences, impacting health, education, and overall well-being.

Organisations like WaterAid Australia are working to provide everyone, everywhere, with clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene. Under the leadership of Tom Muller, its Chief Executive Officer, WaterAid Australia is working with local partners in the region to help those communities.

“I’ve always worked in international development,” said Muller. “While it’s not a traditional path into the water industry, I’ve always loved working on development challenges. There is no greater challenge to me than water, sanitation, and hygiene.”

WaterAid Australia forms part of the international not-for-profit organisation, WaterAid. The Australian branch was set up in 2004 as a collaboration between the water industry and the international aid sector. They have supported projects in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Malawi, Nepal, Mozambique, and Tanzania with funding from the Australian Government.

“We implemented our first projects in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea,” he said. “Since then, we’ve focused on working in Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, and Cambodia.”

Sustainable Development Goal 6

The United Nations has a range of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 6 is dedicated to water. It seeks to ensure safe drinking water and sanitation for all and focuses on the sustainable management of water resources, wastewater, and ecosystems. At the same time, SDG 6 acknowledges the importance of an enabling environment.

“One of the things I love about water and the Sustainable Development Goals is that SDG 6 connects us all globally,” Muller said. “The SDGs tie us all together as we think about the local and global challenges we all face in the water space. Water stories are a fantastic way in which people can talk about the challenges and find solutions.”

Water stories are universal in that any community has stories about water, whether it is Lismore or Lautém, Phnom Penh or Port Moresby.

“At the moment, different places are facing different climate challenges, whether it is having too much or too little water,” he said. “These issues will be exacerbated and accelerated, regardless of the country. That’s the common challenge and story facing people around the world.”

Working towards Sustainable Development Goal 6

The water industry faces many challenges, and international aid programs focusing on SDG 6 are trying to solve their own. Muller believes that the challenges are multifaceted.

“We need to find the political will and commitment to invest in sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene,” he said. There are also huge challenges around urbanisation and informal settlements. In the latter case, we must ensure there are strategies in place to connect informal settlements to utilities and not exclude them from access to water from utilities.”

This is on top of the existing regulatory environments and climate change challenges. A big part of that challenge is the last mile. While commonly thought about for package and postal delivery, the same can be said for the water and wastewater industries. It’s not good enough to build a wastewater treatment plant if people are still openly defecating in the street.

“How do we work with communities to effectively distribute functioning sanitation systems?” Muller asked. “It’s well known that open defecation leads to diarrhoea and other health issues. That kills nearly 800 children a day. That’s why the challenge globally is ensuring that the people who don’t currently have access to basic water and sanitation do get access to it within the timeframe of the SDGs. That’s just over five years away.”

Partnering in solidarity

WaterAid Australia has long partnered with the Australian water industry and sees the need to build solidarity across the sector.

“We’re lucky that there’s so much support for WaterAid from the Australian water industry and companies that work with utilities,” said Muller. “It’s grounded in that common understanding of the human experience of having too much or too little water. The sector’s commitment to making a difference helps us make a difference in Australia, Timor Leste, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea.”

Since WaterAid Australia’s establishment, it has helped 5.7 million people in about 14 countries get access to clean drinking water, appropriate sanitation, and hygiene programs. It has upgraded 511 schools and supported 37 districts in multiple countries to end open defecation.

“The water industry supports us through the fundraising they do for us,” he said. “There are also ambassadors in every state who are championing the cause. WaterAid Australia has also collaborated with different companies with unique skill sets. One example is when we drew on the hydrological expertise of one private sector company for a project in Papua New Guinea. We’ve tapped into the water industry’s knowledge base, and the passion and understanding the industry has for these issues.”

WaterAid is working with many other organisations to reach an additional 400 million people with sustainable and safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services worldwide by 2030. As an organisation, it wants to help more people. Muller pointed out that about 70 per cent of the Timor Leste population lives in rural areas.

“That means there is still a huge need for basic water, sanitation, and hygiene,” Muller said. It’s also about lifting people up the WASH ladder to a safer environment. We aim to help catalyse rapid change and quickly increase the number of people accessing safely managed water and sanitation.”

For more information, visit https://www.wateraid.org/au/

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